Toldot: Material and Spiritual Blessings

This week’s portion, one of our more famous, is familiar to many. The “birthright” story of Jacob and Esau and the details of the final blessings from Isaac to his sons after another round of deceit. We have the insertion of Rebecca’s manipulation of Jacob and Esau’s soulful cry as the portion ends lamenting his not being favored. This is a portion rich in sub-texts and pathos, manipulation and, according to some commentators, behind it all is the hand of history being dictated by God. Wow. To study this portion is to unlock more issues of family dynamics and intrigue.
Yet, there is also an aspect of the text that speaks to the power of blessing. That birthright scene in Genesis 25 and the dramatic scene in 27 of the competing blessings given by Isaac to first Jacob and then Esau. Jacobs’ blessing (27:27ff) promises the continuation of the line of Abraham and Isaac. Esau’s blessing (27:39ff) focuses more on the material. When we discussed this in Torah study class at our JCC, people began to think about several things as related to types of blessings and the passage of time. A discussion mentioned the fact that as we get older, we often turn to thinking of blessings in more spiritual terms. As young people we may see us as blessed with the gathering of material “things”. Yet, as we mature, these material things become less “valuable”, in that we come to understand that they are temporal. The real blessings of life become more spiritual. These are the blessings of family and friends, relationships and time, health and the acquisition of a sense of meaning.
We also, in many ways, come to understand that the source of these spiritual blessings do not come from outside our own experience. In some way, we get to a point in life–we hope–that we understand that we generate that sense of blessing. I think that this is something we do not discuss enough. So much of our society is outer directed, that we need affirmation from outside of our own self. As we get older, we hope that we can have that sense of self-awareness and peace that sees in our own experience a source for blessing.
Each day is another opportunity to make a blessing for our own self. That is a pretty powerful gift. Again, however, that choice is up to us.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Richard F Address

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